You must be thinking I am out of my mind to suggest using a manual focus lens when you have just invested a neat amount in that beautiful piece of poetry called a DSLR. If photography is a passion, you’ll learn and grow as a photographer if you try going manual. We’re taking great pictures with auto-focus, but are we really becoming better photographers when almost all the decision making is being done by the fast processors and quick sensors in our DSLRs?  Or are we just becoming button-pushers? Let’s take a closer look at how manual focus works.

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No more confusion about Apertures

It’s always a little perplexing how the f-ratio works. The bigger the aperture, the smaller is the f-ratio. When you turn to manual-focus-only lens, you can actually see the closing aperture. You are no longer confused about f-stops as you manually stop down your lens by adjusting the manual aperture ring and see the aperture iris contract. You will also understand what light gathering means with the aperture size when you can physically see the aperture blades in manual lens opening and closing.

Visualize the relation between the aperture and DOF

When you are working with the autofocus feature of your DSLR, it usually focuses with a wide aperture. The standard focus screen doesn’t show you the true depth of field (DOF). You don’t realize how much light is available at that width or what difference it will make by stopping down your lens. Unless you know how to use that inconspicuous DOF preview button on your cam, you will never know the true DOF that you are going to achieve with your lens.

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Working with a manual aperture lens can be frustrating at larger f-stops, say f/8, because all you get is a dark viewfinder. But it teaches you its relation with light gathering. You learn to work in terms of your aperture size and the amount of light it will gather. This is specially an enlightening exercise if you have a focus screen that displays the true DOF. When you manually select your aperture, you also consciously select the DOF and thereby have more control over the end result.

Focus on what you want as a subject

Using a manual focus prime lens with a focus screen that shows the true DOF inspires you to create a story in your composition. You find elements appearing and disappearing as you move the focus around with your wide aperture. The autofocus feature of most cameras can’t focus on the edges of the frame. With a manual focus prime, you can overcome that and create an image with its primary subject placed at one of the corners.

This means that you are thinking and making a composition with the clear intent of what you wish the viewer to see. You would learn how to use the autofocus more skillfully; especially those with a focus limiter and in the case of macro photography where you are clicking detailed shots of smaller subjects.

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To conclude…

Changing over to a manual-focus-only lens can prove to be cumbersome and patience-testing. Start with a cheaper lens with an adapter for your chosen mount. This will teach you the invaluable lesson of slowing down and creating stories with your compositions intentionally. You know all the technicality of it in theory. With a manual focus lens, you’ll learn it practically—the process that happens when you are capturing that scene. Keep the patience. You’ll value the enrichment the experience will bring.